The Church: Scary or Sacred?

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It’s the time of year for scary movies, haunted houses, and tribulation trails. It’s also a season where many actively avoid anything remotely frightening. But there’s one place where the dichotomies of good and evil meet, it happens year round, and it’s called the church. The local church is a place, more accurately it’s a group of God’s people who are in community together in order to worship Him, serve and love one another, and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s call it a gathering of sheep, which alerts hungry wolves, and causes shepherds to be on guard. It’s a refuge of hope, yet a place where spiritual warfare rages. The church is not for the faint of heart, but is for the faint of heart. It’s where the weak become strong, because the Strong came to be weak. Some see it as scary, some see it as sacred, but can both be true?

House of Horrors
From the world’s point of view, the global church and the gospel are offensive, calling out sin is judgmental, and the world hates Christ, hates the true church, and sees the Bible and Christianity as a religion of fools. Likewise, there are governments who persecute the church out of fear and out of the desire to maintain control at all cost. And because of sin, the fall, and spiritual warfare, many people will only see and hear about the abuse of some churches, the damage caused by wolves in sheep’s clothing, the false teachers (as in the Book of Jude), the power hungry, money grabbers, the lord it over you leaders, and the politically motivated bandwagoners. For some believers, who have been burned by such abuse, the local church can be a terrifying place that has impacted them so negatively that when they hear the word “church” they immediately cringe. It’s a place they don’t want to go because of their bad experience. Other believers may go to church regularly, worship and find value in it, but are still reluctant to join, get involved, and serve others because of their past experiences. Then every believer, whether they attend church every time the door opens or not, will struggle with sin because we are prone to wander from the truth of God’s Word. Oh, and the Bible teaches that the shepherds, sinners too, will be held accountable for the sheep. From this view, the church is a scary place.

House of Healing
But God, in His infinite wisdom, established the church to make disciples and further His kingdom and told us not to avoid assembling together. When the local church is functioning effectively, that is Biblically, and correctly, it is a house of hope and healing – a healing that may take a long time for those who have experienced abuse. The true church is a beautiful mess of sinners saved by grace, still being sanctified, struggling, yet victoriously perfected positionally in Christ. Where else can you find reprieve from the world? Where else will fellow believers care for each other, provide meals, send a note of encouragement, pray for and cry with one another? Where else will believers sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron in preparation for battle? Where else is there a victory cry over sin because of what Christ has done? Where else can ultimate victory over sorrow and death be expressed at a funeral? Where else are we taught to overlook offenses, forgive seventy times seven, while still talking about the consequences of sin and holding each other accountable through church discipline? Where else can difficult questions be asked and answered, differences of opinion and theological disputes debated, sometimes agreeing to disagree out of love for Christ and one another?

Exit Here
Yes, the imperfect local church can be scary and beautifully hope-filled at the same time. If you’ve ever been hurt in or by the church, know there is healing in Christ and that healing is often manifested in how His love is carried out through a local body of believers. So, be discerning, persevere, and don’t cut yourself off from the church out of fear. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is victorious over all evil and His perfect love drives out fear. The same Jesus who drove the money changers out of the Temple will one day return, and the church will be made perfect, no longer stained by sin.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:17-23).

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Create In Me A Clean Heart

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Have mercy on me, O God
According to Your unfailing love
For I was born in iniquity
My sin is ever reminding me
Create in me a clean heart

There’s blood on my hands, O God
I have failed and lost sight of Your love
Don’t cast me away from your presence
Hide your face from my great transgression
Create in me a clean heart

Come deliver me, O God
According to Your redeeming love
Wash my heart and then make it whole
Renew my life and then scrub my soul
Create in me a clean heart

Restore me into joy, O God
Open my lips to sing of Your love
Lead me away from sin’s temptation
Let me rejoice in Your salvation
Create in me a clean heart

Behind the lines

Psalm 51 – David’s Psalm after God used Nathan to confront him over Bathsheba and Uriah.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalm 51:7-12)

He’ll Guide Us Forever

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We will tell of the LORD
We will make Him famous
Teaching future generations
To proclaim His greatness

He’ll guide us forever
Even when we struggle
Bringing peace and joy to our hearts
In the day of trouble

And He is our fortress
Withstanding enemies
For He rules over Mt. Zion
The King of the City

He’ll guide us forever
And He’ll never fails us
So tell the next generation
That He is the Savior

Behind the lines

Psalm 48

Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever (Psalm 48:12-14).

Sovereign Grace

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Our ears have heard the famous stories
Of the wonders You have done
Our eyes can’t know those ancient glories
But our hearts and minds are won

It wasn’t the strength of an army
That gave Israel the land
No, it was Your arm, Great and Mighty
And the fury of Your hand

It’s not in the bow, sword, or armour
That we place our hope and trust
It’s in the Spirit, Son, and Father
That we will forever boast

Let not our hearts go back to Egypt
Let not our hearts idols raise
But give us other god amnesia
And lips to sing Sovereign Grace

Behind the lines

Psalm 44
O God, we have heard with our ears,

our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them (Psalm 44:1-3).

The Prayer of Eliezer

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It should be a familiar story, but let’s call it Mission Impossible: The Bachelor. It’s the one where Abraham sends his trusted servant to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to marry a local Canaanite so he sends his servant on a mission to his hometown some 600 miles away. From a modern perspective it’s simply outrageous. How does a beautiful young lady (Rebekah) leave her family, and everything she’s ever known, to take off on a camel caravan across the desert to marry a man she’s never met? Yet, we know that’s exactly what happens. It’s all part of God’s plan and the story of the servant reveals much more.

The Faithful Servant
So who is this servant fellow? He’s not actually named in the passage, but he’s described very well. He’s the oldest servant in Abraham’s household and he’s in charge of all that he had. In today’s language, he would be the top employee, power of attorney, executor of his estate, and trusted advisor. Many scholars believe it’s Eliezer, mentioned in Genesis 15:2 as Eliezer of Damascus, the only heir of Abraham’s house (before Isaac was born). His name means: God is help.

Now, it’s time for the mission and he accepts it by swearing to do all that Abraham asked. It’s a mission Abraham believes God will bless and even send an angel before him, but also one where Abraham acknowledges that if she doesn’t come back his oath would be fulfilled. Eliezer’s name is no accident, he would need God’s help. It’s only the lineage of the Messiah at stake, no pressure!  

The Obedient Servant
In verse 10 Eliezer makes plans like an elderly wise man would. He prepares to go with gifts and a small caravan of camels. Since he’s from Damascus, he most likely never traveled to Abraham’s hometown in Mesopotamia. He must have become a servant when Abraham first arrived in the land of Canaan, not long after God called Abraham to leave his country and his kindred. If true, he has little knowledge of the terrain of where he’s going, but I imagine he researched it and planned it out in incredible detail, keeping in mind he had to bring a young lady back safely.  

From the plans in verse 10 to the destination in verse 11, the story progresses quickly, completely skipping his journey details, to where the camels are kneeling near a well outside the City of Nahor. However, let’s pause and consider that long journey, can you imagine the obstacles faced, the adversity overcome? Can you sense his relief of finally arriving at the target city, exhausted and thirsty, expectant, knowing the time of day the daughters would come to draw water, but unsure of what would happen? He made it in faithful obedience, but we only have one verse to know he made it.

The Prayerful Servant
Then we come to verse 12 and find Eliezer’s unique prayer, where he’s not kneeling like the camels, instead, he’s standing, eyes open, watching. This is the first recorded prayer in the Bible. There are other conversations between God and man, other visions noted, but this is the first prayer. It may seem odd that the first prayer is not from a well known character, but it’s not really that strange because we know that God chooses the humble and less obvious characters throughout the Bible to accomplish His purposes.

Another thing the writer (Moses) doesn’t tell us is how frequent Eliezer prayed during the mission, or if he was a prayer warrior. I imagine he prayed many, many times on the way, but what sticks out in the absence of this knowledge is that his faithful, obedient action precedes his specific prayer for guidance.

And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14).

And here we must ask, is this a legitimate way for us to pray? Isn’t he asking for a sign and putting God to the test? What if this isn’t God’s will?

The Bible contains many prayers where God honors specific requests. One that comes to mind is Samson’s prayer in the Book of Judges where he asked for strength one last time (16:28). Of course, God, in His wisdom, may not grant our specific requests. For instance, Paul’s request to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). Thus, God may answer prayers exactly how we pray them, may not answer them (but like Paul – His grace is sufficient), or may answer them in a way that we don’t expect, but we should not be afraid to be very specific when we pray. In fact, we’re encouraged to go boldly before the throne of grace to find Help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Like Eliezer, we should make plans, seek wisdom, and take action, all while seeking the Lord’s guidance in prayer. Then we must trust our Great God to direct our steps and trust Him with the outcome.

The Worshipful Servant
We know that Eliezer was ultimately successful in his mission. Verse 15 tells us that before he finished praying Rebekah came out with a water jar. Then she does everything that he prays to confirm – she’s the one! And what’s amazing is before he even started to pray she had to be on her way. What a faithful God! When we see God’s faithfulness through the lens of answered prayer what does it cause us to do? Worship! And that’s exactly what he did:

The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things (Genesis 24:26-28).

May we all be encouraged to be faithful, obedient, and prayerful in the service of our Master. The next time you face a seemingly impossible situation, remember how God has been faithful in the past, that He is faithful for today, and we can trust Him to be faithful in the future. Thus, we can act, pray, and cling to His promises. And when you see His faithfulness through answered prayer, worship!

 

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